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Feeling remote school stress? We can help.

COVID-19 is changing your world. The stress associated with the disease is here to stay, too. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s Behavioral Health Program focuses on helping you cope with the new normal of COVID-19.

How to spot stress and deal with it.

Excitement mixed with anxiety, and a little worry. That’s how most generations of school-age children will describe the days leading up to the first day of school. Most teachers and caregivers feel the same too. During COVID-19 times, back-to-school stress looks completely different, as does school itself.

In a 2018 survey of high schoolers, more than 40% of 10th and 12th-graders said they’d felt so hopeless within the past two weeks that they’d stopped their usual activities. We expect the next Healthy Youth Survey (postponed at this time) to show the consequences of the pandemic-negative outcomes, numbers will be worse.

Now more than ever, parents and caregivers play a critical role in spotting stress and taking steps to get help for children and youth who need it.

Signs of stress.

Stress can show itself in many ways:

  • Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration.
  • Changes in appetite, energy, and activity levels.
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares.
  • Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Stress in young children.

Sometimes it’s hard to see stress in kids. Children express their feelings differently, both verbally and nonverbally. The best sign of stress can be change in a child’s behavior.

  • Change in regular sleep and eating habits.
  • Change in emotions (being sad, clingy, withdrawn, or angry).
  • Increase in crying or tantrums.
  • Nightmares and fears at bedtime.
  • Physical ailments, such as headaches or stomachaches.

Teens.

Stress can show itself in different ways the older a child gets. In teens, watch for these signs:

  • Headaches and stomachaches.
  • Sleep issues.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Frequent illness.
  • Negative changes in behavior.
  • Difficulty concentrating. 

Mental health is important to physical health and people’s ability to live full, productive lives. A coordinated and comprehensive system that promotes mental wellbeing achieves multiple goals:

  • It prevents mental illness.
  • It prevents substance misuse.
  • It provides access to high-quality and culturally appropriate treatment.
  • It can improve lives and strengthen our community.

Pierce County ranked 22 out of Washington’s 39 counties in the 2020 County Health Rankings. The following factors contributed to Pierce County’s score:

  • Suicide is a major contributor to premature death in Pierce County. Residents lost an average of 6,600 years of potential life compared with 5,600 years lost among all Washington counties.
  • Pierce County residents reported an average of 4.4 poor mental health days per month compared with 4.1 days among all Washington residents.
  • 19% of Pierce County adults reported excessive drinking compared with 17% of Washington adults.

Parents

Parents and caregivers are playing a bigger role in education—perhaps more than ever before.

In 2019, 97% of families with children had at least one parent working outside the home. Most likely, you or someone you know are one of those families. 

The start of the school year in Pierce County has children learning from home. Trying to balance working and supporting children as they learn is a huge challenge. Add to this the complexities of online learning for our kids—even for a short time—and the stress compounds.  Businesses need employees to work and employees need to work to pay bills. It’s a lot to think about and figure out.

Ways to reduce stress at the start of school:

  • Communicate. Stay connected with friends, other parents and school staff.
  • Perspective is important. Know that these days will be challenging, but remain hopeful for the future.
  • Take breaks. You and your children need breaks. Try to take 5 or 10 minutes away from the computer to step outside, get a drink of water or stretch.  
  • Take it easy. These times are hard on all. Set aside time to have fun by taking a walk to the park, play a game or watch a favorite movie. Include your kids in deciding what fun activity to try.

Read our blog titled “Create a routine while you telework to maintain your mental health and well-being” for more helpful information.

Helpful tools.

From crisis lines to games and books to helpful videos, use these tools to get on the road to less stress and to mental wellbeing.

Suicide or urgently needed resources.

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS HAVING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS:

  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (800) 273-8255 (TALK).

FOR URGENT MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS THAT IS NOT LIFE-THREATENING:

  • Call the Pierce County Crisis Line available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (800) 576-7764.
  • Crisis Text Line: text 741741 (mobile fees waived).
  • Washington Listens support line (833) 681-0211, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday–Friday and 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on weekends. TTY and language access services are available.
  • Other mental health resources, call 211.
  • LGBTQ Trevor Project Support Center: (866) 488-7386.

Electronic apps.

Games.

  • Mad Dragon: An Anger Control Card Game. Manufacturer: Therapy Game HQ.
  • Thoughts and Feelings Card Game. Manufacturer: Bright Spots.
  • Feelings and Dealings: An Emotions and Empathy Card Game. Manufacturer: Game On Family.

Books.

Children.

“The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon” by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Fiona Woodcock.

“Millie Fierce” by Jane Manning.

“The Way I Feel” by Janan Cain.

“When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry…” by Molly Bang.

“The Pigeon Has Feelings, Too!” by Mo Willems.

“The Boy with Big, Big Feelings” by Britney Winn Lee.

“The Grouchy Ladybug” by Eric Carle..

Teens.

“The Red Tree” by Shaun Tan.

“Stuff That Sucks: A Teen’s Guide to Accepting What You Can’t Change and Committing to What You Can” by Ben Sedley, Ph.D.

“Just As You Are: A Teen’s Guide to Self-Acceptance and Lasting Self-Esteem” by Michelle Skeen Psy.D.

“I Would, But My DAMN MIND Won’t Let Me!: A Teen’s Guide to Controlling Their Thoughts and Feelings” by Jacqui Letran.

“Depression: A Teen’s Guide to Survive and Thrive” by Jacqueline B. Toner.

“Embracing the Awkward: A Guide for Teens to Succeed at School, Life and Relationships” by Joshua Rodriguez.

Families.

“The Parents We Mean To Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development” by Richard Weissbourd.

“The Opposite of Worry: The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears” by Lawrence J. Cohen.

“Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children” by Reid Wilson Ph.D., Lynn Lyons, LICSW.

“When to Worry: How to Tell If Your Teen Needs Help – and What To Do About It” by Lisa Boesky.

Websites, blogs, podcasts.

kidsmentalhealthpiercecounty.org/videos-and-podcasts.

kidsmentalhealthpiercecounty.org/youth-mental-health-resources/#COVID-19.

Prevention.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html; emergency.cdc.gov/coping/responders.asp.

The American Institute of Stress: stress.org/military/for-practitionersleaders/compassion-fatigue.

Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project: compassionfatigue.org.

Mental Health Awareness: mhanational.org

Snow capped Mount Rainier in summer from far away with green field in front and blue skies above.